Happy holidays, and brace yourself for the season’s worst tradition! I speak not of the crass commercialization of Christmas, nor of the unconscionable deceit of hyping children up for Santa’s visit. No, I speak of the annual bombardment of grapefruit.
We’ll see Harry and David catalogs in the mail, Cushman’s ads in the newspaper, and other marketing ploys for the putrid stocking stuffers. That one clueless aunt will mail you a crate. The ritual of shipping your loved ones grapefruit goes back to the Great Depression, when people wanted to send each other “nourishing” gifts they could actually “use.” Unlike apples and pears, domestic citrus fruits reached peak ripeness during the colder months. Grapefruit proved durable and thus cheap to transport—packed into crates, they could be loaded onto railroad cars and delivered around the country. Almost a century later, nostalgia (or would that be obstinacy?) keeps the tradition in play.
It needs to stop. This killjoy has already invaded our breakfast routines. Its baleful pink, white, or red flesh shines from thousands of tables. Its pulp gets stuck in our teeth. Its juice stains our clothes. And now, we are asked to inflict the scourge on our relatives, shipping it off in packages of 12 or more in order to demonstrate our love?
No. Grapefruit is unwieldy, disgusting, and in some cases dangerous to eat. It is indisputably the worst fruit anyone has ever put on a plate.
A pause, now, for its partisans to bellow, “But it’s a superfood!” Grapefruit enjoys an exalted reputation, thanks in part to countless magazine stories and nutrition listicles singing its praises. It figures in fad diets, including its eponymous diet, dreamed up by Hollywood sadists. Even its scientific name, Citrus x paradisi—so called because, in 1750, naturalist Griffith Hughes dubbed grapefruit the “forbidden fruit” of the Barbados—implies that it belongs somewhere in the Garden of Eden. It does not. It belongs in the trashcan. Consider the evidence:
1. It’s impossible to eat.
A halved grapefruit demands that the opposition suit up for battle. Its edible parts radiate out from its center in segments; separating those wedges from the membrane requires you to saw at them like a maniac with the edge of your spoon. (Some people prepare the fruit with a knife first, which makes things easier but is tedious.) Either way, you end up squirting juice all over yourself. If you’re wearing a light color, you’ll have to change your clothes after the meal. If you’re outdoors, you’ll immediately become a trough for every insect within a three-mile radius.
Incidentally, there are legends of something called a “grapefruit spoon,” with a serrated edge designed to help carve out the fruit’s viscera. I have never seen one. Perhaps they only reveal themselves to the worthy, like the Holy Grail. (Or perhaps I simply don’t spend enough time in rarefied circles.)
Magic utensil or no, things don’t get much easier once you’ve managed to part pith from flesh. You must dig underneath the pulpy segment, trying to balance it on your spoon so that it doesn’t slip off. When it does—and it will—you can choose between retrieving it with your fingers while your classier friends pretend not to notice or just commence sawing a new section. The whole ordeal is not unlike shoveling fish, if you can imagine shoveling fish as an ostensibly healthy, socially approved activity.
2. It tastes disgusting.
A difficult eating process doesn’t have to be a deal breaker; the choreography of consumption can add to a meal’s charm (think lobster). But grapefruit has a more damning problem: It tastes awful. I’m not alone in this judgment.
The polling site Amplicate reports that 26 percent of its 8,066 respondents hate grapefruit. That’s more people than hate Chris Brown, bagpipe music, or Brussels sprouts. And the Internet abounds with discussion threads titled things like “Why are grapefruits so nasty? (One answer: “I don’t know but they are. They make me feel like I have fur on my tongue.”)
Slate’s Hanna Rosin told me recently that her Israeli parents served grapefruit for breakfast every morning because its bitter taste evoked the suffering of the Jews. American novelist and playwright Harry Crews also flagged grapefruit as a harbinger of strife. In his memoir Childhood: The Biography of a Place, he writes, “The tension and anger coming off” his parents “brought the unmistakable smell of grapefruit into the house.” Lest we harbor any doubts about the citrus’ infernal powers, Crews reflects thusly on the experience of trying grapefruit for the first time: “I only had to touch my lips to my piece to know something was wrong, bad wrong.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people, traumatized by the taste of grapefruit, go into denial about its very existence. This is the most reasonable explanation I can think of for why rapper 50 Cent acted as if he had never heard of it when a waiter brought him the grapefruit soda he ordered and he asked why it wasn’t purple (per comedian Aziz Ansari’s telling).
In fact, grapefruits got their common name from the way they cluster on the tree like a bunch of grapes. They did not, it is worth noting, get their name because they taste like grapes, which are delicious. In fact, a grapefruit tastes more like a bad-tempered orange soaked in kerosene, like a pack of stale Warheads rehydrated in vinegar, like a sock filled with battery acid. Grocers and grapefruit vendors describe grapefruits as “tangy,” “sharp,” and—rather poetically—“full of sunshine,” but this is laughable. Have you ever seen a grocer actually eat one?
3. It’s plotting to murder you.
The compounds in grapefruit inhibit an enzyme in the intestine from metabolizing certain substances. These substances include drugs that regulate blood pressure (Nitrendipine), high cholesterol (Lipitor), heart arrhythmia (Cordarone), and depression (Zoloft). If you eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice within three days of taking such drugs, your body fails to process the medications as it should, and you can experience side effects resulting from higher levels of the drug in your system. The bottom line? Grapefruit is trying to kill us.
What, then, accounts for our national grapefruit worship? Why do we lie to ourselves about its suitability as a holiday gift? Why do we continue to tolerate the sourness, the mess, the mechanical impossibility of consuming grapefruit without a prissy specialized spoon that belongs, perhaps, in jokes about Mitt Romney’s table settings, but not in real life?
Apparently it’s crammed with Vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and a possibly cancer-preventing antioxidant called lycopene. Never mind that the list of fruits with more Vitamin C than grapefruit takes care of half the produce aisle: papayas, strawberries, oranges, clementines, tangerines, kiwis, guavas, and cantaloupe, for starters. Or that you can get way more calcium and fiber simply from eating a bowl of cereal with milk. Or that the tests demonstrating the cancer-fighting properties of lycopene were inconclusive.
Experts once thought grapefruit contained a mysterious enzyme that dissolved fat, but that theory was debunked in 2011 by a study from—of all people—the Florida Citrus Department. “There is no evidence that grapefruit has fat-burning enzymes, nor is it a magic bullet for weight loss,” Connie Diekman, the past president of the American Dietetic Association, has said.
Meanwhile, diet gurus loved grapefruit because they believed it required more energy to digest than it actually contained. In other words, eating grapefruit burned calories! It was exercise!
Unfortunately, the “negative calorie” label is problematic on its own—and even if it weren’t, it’s unclear that grapefruit would fit the bill. While grapefruit does boast a low glycemic index, its effect on weight loss is fairly weak, according to one 2004 study from the Scripps Clinic.
More importantly, many unpalatable or impracticable things can help people lose weight, including eating woodchips or wrestling bears. That doesn’t mean we eat woodchips or wrestle bears, although I’d honestly consider doing both before fake-smiling my way through another grapefruit half over Sunday brunch.
So please, if you were even remotely thinking about shipping a box of grapefruit to someone you love for the holidays, kindly desist. Offloading a box of grapefruit on someone you hate, however—at least the revenge will be sweet.